Heartburn is an uncomfortable, burning feeling in your chest that is worsened by lying down or bending forward. This sensation starts from the breastbone and seems to travel up along the neck and throat.
Often times, sufferers will complain that the contents of the stomach – food and liquids – seem to be heading back up. They may also report a sour or bitter aftertaste in the mouth during a heartburn episode. This burning discomfort can be very mild or it can be very severe, as to mimic a heart attack.
What causes heartburn? It is due to hydrochloric acid, produced in the stomach for digestion purposes, backing up the esophagus. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which connects with the esophagus, becomes weakened.
Heartburn is usually triggered by what people eat and do. To paraphrase Dr. Bolin of Australian Gut Foundation, if you’d eaten a big rich meal of rich and greasy food, coupled with too much caffeine, stress, smoking, alcohol, you’ve just given yourself a big risk for getting heartburn during the night.
The LES’ function is to keep the stomach’s contents out of the esophagus. Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea tend to relax the LES. When the LES is relaxed, it fails to keep all of the stomach’s contents intact. Some of the acidic contents push back into the esophagus leading to the burning sensation of heartburn.
Apart from caffeinated drinks, alcoholic drinks, and fatty foods, certain foods like chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato-based products have also been implicated for heartburn; they relax the LES causing stomach acid to escape into the esophagus. Eating huge meals, wearing tight clothes or lying down right after eating likewise increase your chances of getting heartburn. Therefore to control it you need to make some changes into your diet and eating habits.
Antacids are the most common remedy given for heartburn. If antacids do not control your condition, you may be given stronger medicines like H2 receptor antagonists like cimetidine (e.g. Tagamet) or proton-pump inhibitors like esomeprazole (e.g. Nexium).
A common and natural cure for heartburn is fennel tea. The relief from heartburn by consuming fennel tea should be rather quick. Fennel is also a key ingredient in many medications developed to treat heartburn.
What about milk? Milk is an old favorite for relieving heartburn, but it is a double-edged sword. It is an antacid, but it will only give temporary relief. The calcium and protein found in milk stimulate acid production so half an hour later, you can find yourself suffering even more pain.
To prevent heartburn, here are some practical steps that you can do:
- Reduce portion sizes when eating. Do not overeat.
- Stay clear of fatty foods like burgers, fried chicken, and chips. Fat takes time to digest so food stays on the stomach longer.
- Stay clear of spicy foods as they stimulate the production of stomach acid.
- Avoid coffee after dinner — caffeine relaxes the LES is often a trigger.
- Don’t rush — fast eating ups stomach acid production. Instead, relax and chew your food properly. Your digestive tract will thank you for it.